Numlock News: December 2, 2020 • Masons, Monoliths, Mandalorians
By Walt Hickey
The resale market in North America for sneakers and streetwear is worth over $2 billion annually. With that much money on the line an arsenal of sophisticated bots at the disposal of speculators has flooded the market, and made the once-simple experience of “buying some rad sneakers” a John Henry-esque grind for the honest hypebeasts among us. Simple Captchas are no match for them — rudimentary commercially available AI image recognition tools can solve 70 percent of Captchas, per a 2016 study — and the robot army is not stopping at shoes and Supreme. As online scalping becomes more profitable and reliable — about 90 percent of website traffic on the designer shoe sites during flash sales are bots waiting to buy — the bots are not just getting the new kicks before you do, but buying the PlayStation 5 before Santa can.
Following accumulating damage over the course of the past several months the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico sustained a previously unimaginable collapse Tuesday when the 900-ton receiver platform became dislodged from its moorings and fell 400 feet on to the damaged reflector dish below. It’s a decisive, brutal end to the telescope, which had seen decades of service and the U.S. National Science Foundation had just recently announced its decommissioning following the cable breaks. While scientists had been urging the NSF to reverse that decision, gravity has kind of ruled that one out.
Everyone has been enraptured by the shiny, weird monolith that appeared in the Utah desert, only to disappear. Shortly later, a similar monolith appeared across the world in Romania. I wish to assure you that is only the second-most captivating monolith story in the news these days. (Also, come on, it has “art project” or “viral marketing” written all over it.) Anyway, the real deal is the disappearance of a 6.5 foot wooden monument that had stood for four or five years on the 5,702 foot tall Grünten mountain, a local icon which appears to have been chopped down over the weekend. It weighs 440 pounds, and, by the way, did I mention the sculpture is 100 percent a gigantic phallus? Police in the town of Kempten have announced an investigation to find the missing wood, while local municipal leadership have decried the disappearance.
Disney Plus hit The Mandalorian is having the desired synergistic effect, according to an analysis of streams of other Star Wars spinoff products. According to Parrot Analytics, the Clone Wars animated television series is today four times as popular as it was before The Mandalorian came around, a surge of interest fans attribute to the hit forging direct links between the old animated series and the new Pedro Pascal-starring series. This network effect isn’t exactly new — if anything, it’s the very foundation of the Disney business model — but it’s definitely a good sign that the investment in Disney Plus originals is working out well and juicing interest in the back catalog, especially with a number of Marvel-related originals coming down the pipeline.
We do, we do!
Participation in organized social groups has taken a nosedive in the United States in the past several decades, especially among fraternal organizations like the Freemasons and Knights of Columbus. A 2019 congressional report found membership rates in some organizations fell from 75 percent in 1974 to 62 percent in 2004, and a colossal 52 percent drop was seen in the membership rolls of the fraternal organizations. The Masons in particular are making a push for new members, having seen their number fall significantly since their peak in 1959, when 4.1 million — 4.5 percent of American men — were members. They’ve since sustained a 75 percent fall in membership, and the solution isn’t readily clear. If someone wanted to join an exclusive, secretive, predominantly male organization that met regularly and was obsessed with architecture, most kids these days would just set up a private Minecraft server.
An analysis of business travel trends suggests that somewhere between 19 and 36 percent of all air trips are projected to be lost permanently following whatever the eventual return to normalcy looks to be, as new wired business environments and cut budgets permanently change the face of the airline business. The 10 to 15 percent of business travelers account for 40 percent of revenue at the major global air carriers, with business trips contributing an estimated $334 billion out of the $1.1 trillion in travel revenue in 2019. The uncertainty of the foundation of the airline business could mean serious changes in the economics of air in the years to come.
In late June, India banned TikTok, which then had 200 million monthly active users in the country. The move was part of a larger technical broadside against China during a testy military situation that had developed on the nations’ border. What followed were some pretty instantaneous plays for the market: two 21-year-old students spent three weeks coding a mediocre knockoff of TikTok, threw it into the Google Play Store, named it “Indian TikTok” and have since scored about 1 million downloads. Indeed, ports of the banned app have been a booming business: of the 100 top social apps in the Google Play Store, some 13 are TikTok knockoffs. Some are serious players in Indian tech trying to muscle in on the market, others are the shabbiest possible cash-in, but in either case, it’s a shot for local developers to assert some control in the home market.
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